To be in the legendary Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert was like seeing New York City for the first time.
Amazing, spectacular, wild, and exciting. We never knew, as we set out each day, what unforeseen spectacles we would see. We chased wild dogs as they chased a gazelle and saw their intricate interactions with each other as they shared their kill.
We saw many lions--males with magnificent manes, females with their cubs, up close and sometimes sleeping in the sun, while we were safe in our vehicle.
We saw leopards crouched in tall grass, waiting for prey. One morning, we saw a magnificent male perched on the trunk of a huge fallen tree. Behind him were dozens of wildebeest, eyeing him warily and giving him a wide berth. They never took their eyes off him, even as they slowly maneuvered out of his range. He just sat there, perched on that tree trunk.
Perched on a hilltop above the grand Chobe River flood plain, we saw great mixed herds of large African mammals.
Zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeests, hippopotami, Cape buffalo, impalas, warthogs, and others, all were spread before us. In the river, grazing on grass, drinking, rolling in mud. All below and before us, like a great Eden.
We saw dozens of baboon families wandering through the grass, picking up tidbits of food and gingerly putting them in their mouths. Many mothers had small babies that played and frolicked like little children, sometimes annoying the adults, who would swat at them, sending them scampering back to their mothers and climbing aboard their backs, even on to their heads..
When we set out in our safari vehicle in the mornings, we never knew what type of terrain we would encounter. We drove through rivers of unknown depth, crossed bridges that collapsed under our wheels, pushed aside tree limbs that snapped at us, sheltered ourselves from the sun in forests of tall mopane trees or under gigantic baobab trees, and drove through darkness that made us keenly aware of the unknown animals of the night.
Our abodes were tents with simple beds and small tables. Our bathrooms were shelters made of canvas, 6 or 7 feet tall, connected to our tents, with showers composed of a shower head attached to the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket and toilets composed of a makeshift toilet seat connected to chair legs poised over a 3-ft deep hole. Toilet paper and soap were nearby, in a small pocket sewn into the canvas. Clean towels were always available. A spade and the dirt from the hole were there for us to “flush” away (aka cover up) the products of our toilet activities. To take a shower, the cooks and safari staff would heat large pots of water over an open fire and pour it into the 5-gallon bucket. Showering had to be completed by the time that bucket was empty. Altogether, the typical bathroom experience was an adventure!
One night, we were sleeping in our tents during the dark of the moon and a pride of lions must have been attacking a young elephant. It sounded like the whole affair was just outside of our tents. Lions roared the deep, throaty roar of an attack, large and small elephants were trumpeting at the tops of their voices. Brush and tree limbs were cracking and snapping. The commotion became increasingly loud. The elephants sounded panic-stricken and the lions sounded fierce and threatening. I wanted to go outside of my tent and see this event with my own eyes, but all I could do was lay paralyzed in my bed, fearing that a lion would crash through my tent door. Then, all sound stopped, just like that. I never knew who won that battle, but the silence was even scarier than the noise. I knew that some animal had died, and that’s why the battle ended in sudden, enveloping silence. It was hard to go to sleep after that.
Our meals were prepared by a gourmet cook — out there, in the middle of nowhere, in the wilds of Africa. We ate under a large canopy. The table was carefully and beautifully set each night, and wine from a box was ready as soon as we returned from the afternoon safari. It’s amazing how good wine from a box can taste. A campfire was glowing each night. We would take our dinner chairs over to the campfire, enjoy our wine, muse and delight over the day’s sightings and adventures, and await the chef’s arrival at the campfire to announce our dinner menu. We gave him our full attention as he described the delicacies he created over an open fire and in fire pits. It was amazing! Each night was a new dining experience; and every night, all of the food was delicious. We even had dessert, which he called “pudding,” regardless of what the dessert consisted of. The only problem with the evening’s activities was that we drank all of the wine intended for the entire safari in just a few days! The safari leader promptly dispatched a helper to the nearest town, which was possibly 100 miles away, to buy more wine. We never wanted for anything in the way of food or drink.
We saw more types of ungulates than I knew even existed in the world — hartebeests, wildebeests, springboks, topis, klipspringers, oribis, steenboks, grysboks, buffalos, elands, bushbucks, sitatungas, kudus, duikers, roan antelope, sable antelope, gemsboks, impalas (so many they were everywhere), waterbucks, lechwes, and reedbucks. Each had their own peculiar types of antlers, more types of antlers than I knew even existed in the world. All were beautiful and mesmerizing. One night, a bushbaby graced us with his presence in a tree just above our dining canopy. Everyone watched as it slowly made its way up the tree, stopping to peer at us with its huge, shiny eyes. It was completely endearing.